Michael James : Baseball in Moscow and ‘Turf Accountant’ in Belfast

Turf Accountant, a betting parlor in Belfast, Northern Ireland, August 7, 1990. Photo by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James Pictures from the Long Haul.

Pictures from the Long Haul:
Playing baseball in the USSR and
drinking Guinness in Belfast

In Belfast we drive to the battlefield called the Falls Road, working class and traditionally socialist. I shoot pictures of buildings and people, and a betting parlor that is called ‘Turf Accountant.’

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | June 26, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about — and inspired by — those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.]

I have to go through Shannon, Ireland, to get to the Soviet Union in 1990 — both going and coming — and both ways I observe people drinking Guinness early in the morning, when getting off planes and before boarding planes. Another observation: I like the Soviet/Russian planes, particularly that the armrest on the aisle goes up, freeing you to turn and talk to your neighbors, put your legs in the aisle somewhere over Poland, to move around.

In the USSR our delegation of already aging left-wing Athletes United for Peace plays baseball at Moscow State on a beautiful baseball diamond built by the Japanese. In Donetsk we play ball in a soccer stadium, run a baseball clinic, meet with striking miners, and run in a race with striking miners, many running barefoot.

We visit Sochi and Leningrad too. The husband/dad of the family I stay with in Leningrad was a member of the Soviet Olympic Volleyball team He takes me to a wonderful ancient bathhouse, and — being Jewish — fills me in on some Soviet realities.

On the trip I bond with comrade brother Mike Klonsky; we are roommates and share some swell activities and observations. We are tovarischs — comrades — forever. On the plane back are lots of Cubans; I trade them my rubles for their pesos. In Shannon, I say goodbye to Klonsky and others, and head off with Guy Benjamin and Dan Goich, retired pro football players.

We rent a car and head for the Fitzgerald’s in Tullah. Relatives of my longtime friend and business partner Katy Hogan, they treat us to nips of whiskey and sandwiches. Then on toward the West Coast, Galway, and a place to stay in Ennis, a bed and breakfast owned by Mary Monahan. I just assume she is a relative of the Monahan’s in my Chicago neighborhood, the so-called Peoples Republic of Rogers Park. We fall out by 9:30.

In the morning Mary nourishes us, and then we’re off. Guy stops in town for a Guinness at Mahoney’s thatch-roofed pub. I buy film, and two tapes, one by my man George Jones, the other a collection of Tulla bands, 1946-1986. We stop by the water in Galway, and then drive to a town called Westport. My hometown is Westport, Connecticut, so I buy saltwater taffy that says Westport on it, and drive the next leg to Sligo by the Atlantic. Driving while sitting on the right side of a blue Ford, and driving on the left side of the road, is very strange.

We stay in Sligo, but backtrack a bit to a place we learn about, Kilcullen’s Seaweed Baths in Enniscrone, Sligo County. They were great: a big tub of seaweed and hot seawater — plenty of it with a cold freshwater shower overhead the middle of the tub.

We cross into Northern Ireland. I had spent two weeks in the USSR and saw zilch for guns and weaponry. Crossing into Northern Ireland there were machine gun turrets, barbed wire, cement barriers, zig zag-driving lanes, and guys in full-bore combat outfits. Whoa and wow. Wow and whoa.

In Belfast we drive to the battlefield called the Falls Road, working class and traditionally socialist. I shoot pictures of buildings and people, and a betting parlor that is called “Turf Accountant.” Back in Belfast center Dan buys us a big steak lunch at a nice place.

We make our way south, through another checkpoint, drive over to the Irish Sea at Clogherhead, and find a bed and breakfast around sunset that’s run by the McEvoy family, in a place called Termonfeckin. That’s Termonfeckin! We settle in, take a walk on the beach, and then go for more Guinness at a local pub.

Jim McEvoy turns out to be a masters 800-meter champion. He knows the Irish running scene, and I tell him about my Loyola track coach pal Gordon Thomson. Jim also raises barley for Guinness, and raises Belgium Blue cattle. In the morning we hang out with Jim, his nine-year-old daughter Bernette, and a humongous 16-month-old bull, who acts like a cute, passive, and loveable puppy.

On to Dublin, we walk around this urban energy city, have coffee at Brawley’s, see a store called Chicago, and have big lamb chops at The Old Stand in the financial district. We take in Trinity University, dig its’ ancient vibe, and then head out. By evening we’re on the bank of the River Shannon near Limerick, staying at the Anchor Inn, sleeping upstairs from Irish Molly’s traditional music pub. The music and revelry goes on late into the night.

In the morning its cereal, sausage, Irish bacon, eggs, cooked tomatoes, OJ, toast and coffee. Before you know it, we’re in the Shannon airport. Guy gets another Guinness, we board, and after two weeks in the USSR and 96 hours in Ireland, we cross the blue waters to New York and west, back to life in the good old US of A.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago’s Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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